By Eric Stiles, President/CEO New Jersey Audubon
On a wintry weekend in December, more than 80 volunteers came together to help New Jersey Audubon staff plant 1,320 native trees and shrubs on a working farm in Salem County.
The volunteers planted trees and shrubs along an irrigation pond that connects to the nearby Fenwick Creek, forming a riparian buffer that protects the waterway by filtering out pollutants in runoff while providing food and cover for wildlife. The Fenwick Creek flows into the Salem River, which in turn flows into the Delaware Bay, and is part of the larger Delaware River Basin.
That same weekend, Republicans and Democrats likewise joined together to pass the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN) Act, a legislative package that provides more than $10 billion in federal investment for water resources and infrastructure projects nationally.
This important legislation includes a critical authorization to support science-based restoration and protection projects in the Delaware River Basin. The WIIN Act passed in Congress with strong bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama on December 16, 2016.
Included in the larger WIIN Act was the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA). The DRBCA establishes the non-regulatory Delaware River Basin Restoration Program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new program creates a coordinated approach for identifying, prioritizing, and implementing restoration and protection projects throughout the watershed and supports locally-driven conservation projects through a competitive grant and technical assistance program.
The non-regulatory, incentive-based approach will support green jobs by leveraging private investment as part of the 50 percent non-federal match requirement for the grant and technical assistance program.
New Jersey Audubon, working in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, has been at the forefront of advocating for the DRBCA through its leadership role in the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, which unites more than 100 members working throughout the watershed.
This program is designed to be bottom-up, leveraging the knowledge of organizations that work in our communities. Ultimately, it will bolster the substantial work already taking place in the watershed in order to combat important issues like water and habitat degradation, invasive species, and climate change.
As one of the original co-sponsors of this legislation in 2010, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.) has been a steadfast advocate for the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act and a crucial player in seeing it through Congress.
“Protecting and promoting the Delaware River Basin for future generations has long been an economic and environmental priority for me. This bipartisan legislation will now help us leverage assets on a strategy to achieve our shared goal. I am proud to work closely with New Jersey Audubon and other advocates in South Jersey on this critical public-private partnership.” – Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.)
New Jersey Audubon applauds Congressman LoBiondo for his continued dedication to protecting and restoring the Delaware River Basin. The Congressman has a strong track record of supporting conservation both in our region and around the country. Earlier this month, Rep. LoBiondo joined just three of his Republican colleagues to break party lines and vote against an effort to roll back Bureau of Land Management regulations, which would utilize the best available science and increase public involvement in the agency’s land use planning process.
New Jersey Audubon ardently supports using the best available science to protect and effectively steward the land in our region that supports the people and wildlife that call it home. In New Jersey, the Basin is not only home to many incredible species like Atlantic sturgeon and red knot, but is also a source of clean drinking water for millions and a place for all people to connect with nature and learn about the world around us. We are proud to have champions in Congress who have fought passionately for the Delaware River Basin and the resources it provides.
New Jersey Audubon and the Coalition will continue to advocate for federal funds to be appropriated for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can begin its implementation as quickly as possible. It is imperative that Congress appropriates money for this science-based program so that federal funds can enhance private investment in protecting the natural resources of the basin.
Also, the Coalition will work to ensure the voice of the non-profit community is heard in the development of a basin-wide strategy as part of the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program. This is a landmark moment for the conservation movement, fueled by bi-partisan support that must be applauded.